I’ve been back into buying vinyl again for quite a few years now – some 2nd-hand, some new; sometimes to replace old knackered copies of stuff I’ve always had; sometimes to pick up stuff that’s only previously been released on CD, and some new releases (I’ll always choose vinyl over other formats).
Most recently, I’ve picked up a 2nd-hand stereo copy of ‘Highway 61 Revisited’, as well as some new releases: ‘The Firewatcher’s Daughter’ (Brandi Carlile), ‘London Calling’, ‘Terraplane’ (Steve Earle & The Dukes) and Thunder’s ‘Wonder Days’.
When it comes to the new releases / new vinyl pressings, the quality and care that gets put into them varies wildly.
The Thunder album highlights one of the problems (and probably the most common one), which I’m assuming pretty much comes down to record companies just jumping on the ‘vinyl revival’ bandwagon to screw as much cash out of punters as possible, and is presumably facilitated by the current relative cheapness of oil (and therefore vinyl). It’s an 11-track album, so why release it as a DOUBLE LP, with no inclusion of bonus tracks or anything of any sort to justify four sides of vinyl? It strikes me as ironic that one of the selling points of CDs was not having to get up to change sides, and now these unnecessary double albums are now doubling that ‘inconvenience’ for no reason whatsoever – three tracks in, and you’re having to turn the damned thing over.
Other major offenders are the aforementioned Brandi Carlile LP, Springsteen’s ‘Wrecking Ball’ (unforgivably not including the 2 CD bonus tracks, one of which is the wonderful ‘American Land’), the last 2 Muse albums, Bob Dylan’s last 4 original albums, and most disappointingly, Pink Floyd’s ‘The Endless River’, which not only doesn’t include the bonus tracks, but doesn’t even bother to make use of all of the available vinyl to spread the tracks out over – a good third of the vinyl is just dead space. They could have easily put the main album on 3 sides and filled side 4 with bonus tracks. ‘The Division Bell’ is almost as bad. This pretty shoddy treatment of punters is highlighted by the obvious care and consideration that went into the vinyl version of ‘A Feast Of Consequences’ – not only did Fish have a hand in selecting the track order for the vinyl version, side 4 is given over to live versions of 3 tracks because the album itself only needs three sides of vinyl – the difference, I guess, between faceless corporate rip-off and someone who genuinely cares about the product they’re selling to their fans.
I must just give a dishonourable mention to last year’s release of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ 1995 album, ‘Murder Ballads’ – 10 songs somehow requiring release on a double album, so we end up with (you’ll like this) 4 tracks each on sides A and B, 2 (one of which is, admittedly, quite long) on side C and absolutely nothing at all on side D – just a plain red label and not so much as a single groove in the vinyl. My gast was well-and-truly flabbered!
‘A Feast Of Consequences’ also contrasts favourably with another major failure: someone who doesn’t even appear to be familiar with the content of the album being responsible for programming the vinyl version. The vinyl version of ‘Feast…’ actually has a different running order than the CD so that it flows more smoothly through the vinyl sides; not much more thought, care and attention could have possibly been put into it. Award for worst offender at the opposite end of the scale so far goes to The Waterboys’ ‘Modern Blues’: not only a double album lacking in bonus material (sides 3 & 4 containing only a 10:23 track and its acoustic version respectively), but the track ‘Prelude To Long Strange Golden Road’ is on the end of side 2, with ‘Long Strange Golden Road’ itself being the aforementioned track that takes up the whole of side 3. Excellent planning! Not even on the same piece of vinyl, let alone the same side!
Then there’s just general lack of quality and a sense of the attitude ‘just chuck stuff out – as long as it’s on vinyl, they’ll buy anything!’. The Gaslight Anthem have been major recent offenders here: ‘The ’59 Sound’ is the noisiest piece of new vinyl I’ve ever heard (bought it in The States, so taking it back’s going to be difficult), and the (£40!!) ‘deluxe edition’ of ‘Get Hurt’ features a 3-track, 11:30 2nd record that omits one of the tracks from the ‘deluxe’ edition of the CD, and a gatefold sleeve whose inner is plain red. I’ve rarely felt more ripped-off.
All-in all, it would seem, with very few exceptions, the current ‘vinyl revival’ seems to be resulting in the inevitable corporate rip-off: “We’re at last back to at least some punters buying their music on a physical format, so let’s milk it for as much as we can, by a) releasing unnecessarily double albums so we can justify charging more for them [you can bet the artists don’t see any of the extra money], b) just chucking out shoddily-put-together, ill-thought-out versions and ride this bandwagon for all it’s worth".
There are, of course, non-Fish exceptions to this. The Led Zep reissues seem pretty reasonable, as does The Beatles stuff (although I’m not sure about the wisdom of using digital remasters for vinyl reissues), the reissues of the first two Oasis albums incorporated bonus tracks into the running order of the albums, and there are plenty of standard albums being released in the single-LP format they comfortably fit on to (Steve Earle, Deep Purple, First Aid Kit, etc). So not all bad, then….